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REPORT: Bagnaia clicks into gear in Qatar to start title defence

Matt Clayton
Monday, 11 March 2024

Defending champion Pecco Bagnaia controlled the Qatar Grand Prix from the outset, while star rookie Pedro Acosta lived up to the hype as the MotoGP™ season got underway under lights in Doha.

Pecco Bagnaia picked up where he left off last year in the Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix on Sunday night, Ducati’s reigning MotoGP™ world champion dominating the 2024 season-opener to begin his quest for a third straight title in imposing style.

From fifth on the grid, the Italian made his intentions clear with a robust first lap where he elbowed his way past 2023 title rival Jorge Martin at Turn 4 to take the lead, and controlled the pace thereafter to ease to victory by 1.329secs after 21 laps.


The victory continues Ducati’s stronghold over the series – the Italian marque has now won 10 straight Grands Prix, a milestone that hasn’t been achieved since Honda won 10 consecutive races in 2003.

While Bagnaia was untouched out front after assuming his early advantage, the order of the final podium places was in doubt until the final lap, KTM’s Brad Binder eventually taking second, the South African finishing six-tenths of a second ahead of Martin.

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Binder was a shining light as best of the rest, his KTM the only non-Ducati finisher inside the top seven.

Marc Marquez, in his first Grand Prix not on a Honda since his 2013 premier-class rookie season, was fourth for Ducati, the eight-time champion engaging in a spirited fight with the rider described as the “next Marquez”, GasGas rookie Pedro Acosta.

Acosta made an audacious pass of Marquez to take fourth on lap 12, but faded as the race progressed and eventually finished in ninth place.

While Binder shone for KTM, it was a difficult first weekend of the season for Australian teammate Jack Miller, who crashed at the first corner on the second lap and remounted at the back of the pack, finishing 21st and last of the classified riders.

In Saturday night’s Sprint, Martin added to his reputation as MotoGP’s short-form king when he won from pole position, leading home Binder and Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro, the top three separated by less than one second. Sunday’s victor Bagnaia finished fourth.

Martin, victorious in nine Sprints last season, has now won eight of the past nine half-distance races dating back to the San Marino Grand Prix last September.

Miller, who qualified 11th, finished just outside of the points in 10th in the 11-lap Sprint.

Surprise packet

Pedro Acosta’s eye-catching debut wasn’t a surprise in isolation – the reigning Moto2™ champion came to his first Grand Prix in the top class with high expectations after setting a searing pace in pre-season testing – but it was how quickly the Spanish teenager looked at home in a MotoGP™ race that was so impressive.

From eighth on the grid, Acosta was part of a five-bike breakaway group that set the pace after seven laps, and a podium finish looked an outside chance when he moved past Marquez and set after Martin with nine laps left.

Acosta’s lack of experience bit hard late in the race as he struggled with fading tyres, running wide to allow Marquez back through on lap 14 and then ceding places to Enea Bastianini (Ducati), Alex Marquez (Ducati), last year’s Doha victor Fabio Di Giannantonio (Ducati) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) in the closing laps to finish ninth, 11.595secs behind race-winner Bagnaia.

Acosta set the fastest lap of the race (1min 52.657secs) on lap two of 21, showing the speed that marks him as a man to watch, but equally the lack of experience that saw him take too much out of his Michelin rubber too early as he gets his MotoGP™ feet wet.

Number to know

8: Bagnaia’s victory was the first time in eight years that the reigning champion won the last race of the previous season and first race of the following season since Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) in 2015-16.

Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix: top 10

  1. Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) 39mins 34.869secs
  2. Brad Binder (KTM) +1.329secs
  3. Jorge Martin (Ducati) +1.933secs
  4. Marc Marquez (Ducati) +3.429secs
  5. Enea Bastianini (Ducati) +5.153secs
  6. Alex Marquez (Ducati) +6.791secs
  7. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Ducati) +9.161secs
  8. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) +11.242secs
  9. Pedro Acosta (Ducati) +11.595secs
  10. Maverick Vinales (Aprilia) +13.197secs

Riders' championship standings (top 5)

  1. Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati) 31 points
  2. Brad Binder (KTM) 29
  3. Jorge Martin (Ducati) 28
  4. Marc Marquez (Ducati) 18
  5. Enea Bastianini (Ducati) 15

What's next?

Round 2: Portugal (Autódromo Internacional do Algarve), Mar 22-24